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Home » Arts & Culture » Enda’s labour of love on Ennistymon’s musical legacy
Local man Enda Byrt who has written a book and a CD entitled Sound Your A, The Story Behind the Ceili and Dance Bands Of Ennistymon. The book is being launched on Saturday December 10 at Teach Ceoil. Photograph by John Kelly

Enda’s labour of love on Ennistymon’s musical legacy

Champion Chatter

Ahead of the launch of his new book and double CD on December 10, Enda Byrt reflects on the history of the céilí and dance bands of Ennistymon from 1954 to 1970.

 

COUNTY Clare is closely associated with traditional music, with an audience made up of traditional purists to passing tourists, and all in between! 

Sound Your A: The story of  the Céilí and Dance bands of Ennistymon: families, music and musicians tells as much of the story of the music of Ennistymon and district, not all traditional, as can be gleaned from the recordings and the accounts of the times, as well as the music that could be gathered. Sound Your A tells the stories of the individual musicians, and their families.

Much has been and continues to be written about the music and musicians of Clare. The areas receiving most attention in the West of the county are often Doolin, Kilfenora, and Miltown Malbay. All have a rich, deep and well-established musical heritage and are connected with Ennistymon in many ways. Ennistymon, comparatively, has not shared this limelight.

As readers may already know, however, the town and district provided musicians for many years for nationally-known and acclaimed bands from Clare. Ennistymon musicians gave long service to the music of these bands.

Jimmy Leyden, Pat Madigan, Michael Kelleher, Michael Murphy (unique, in that he played with Tulla also) and Paddy Organ Mullins played with the Kilfenora Céilí Band.

Michael Murphy, Seán Conway, Martin Garrihy, George Byrt and Fiachra Haren played with the Tulla Céilí Band. The Tulla had a very strong contribution over many years from other West Clare musicians. The Ennistymon musicians were joined at different times by Michael Patsy Flanagan, JC Talty, Bobby Casey, Willie Clancy and Martin Vaughan, as vocalist.

The story of Ennistymon’s bands begins with the Corcomroe Band from the 1940s. This band also played under the Kilfenora banner at this time. It was under the direction of Galway native, Barry Ward, who was an engineer working at the Doolin Phosphate Mines.

He was also a founding member of the Galway Céilídhe Band who recorded for HMV in 1942. Another key member of that band was Angela Merry, later to teach with County Clare VEC, and be a founding member of the Miltown Malbay-based Laichtín Naofa Céilí Band.

This band can be heard on CD2 of Sound Your A. There are no recordings of the 1940s Corcomroe. While they did a radio broadcast on two occasions, once in around 1945 and again after their performance at Féile Luimní, Radió Éireann did not keep a traditional music archive at the time.

Following the closure of Doolin Mines, Barry Ward emigrated to South Africa in 1948 and the Corcomroe continued as an Ennistymon-based band. Ward was experimental for the time and wrote parts for band instruments including the saxophone.

His influence was very evident in the later Ennistymon-based Corcomroe. He also founded Corcomroe Pictures with John Byrt and this business continued with film screenings at Ennistymon, Lisdoonvarna and Kinvara.

In the 1950s, Ennistymon was supporting five different bands. These were the Jack Madigan and Michael Hogan dance bands, the Corcomroe, a brass band and a pipe band. Many of the musicians featured on the CDs played in both the dance and céilí bands, as well as being members of orchestras for musicals.

While there are unfortunately no recordings of the dance bands, six of the musicians from the bands are recorded playing solo on the CD. If you can use your musical imagination and combine the tunes, you can be transported back to the dance hall days of the 1950s.

Michael Hogan came to Ennistymon to work at Barrý’s Shoe factory in 1917, from St Josephs Industrial School in Limerick. His father was killed in an accident in Shaws Bacon factory in 1904. His mother had five children. As was often the case, they were broken up and put in care.

Michael was a shoemaker and had learned music in the industrial school. He made an unforgettable contribution to the musical life of Clare and the Mid-West as an individual and through his band.

The Madigan Band was equally popular and was entertaining from the late 1930s. John (Jack) Madigan was born in Worcester Massachusetts in 1906. The family returned to Ireland around 1907/08 and settled in Ennistymon, where they set up their stone-cutting business. John Madigan Senior was a leading member of the brass band and played with the Ennistymon No. 1 Melody Band from the early ‘30s.

Jack Madigan played at a Liscannor Young Farmers Dance at the Sluagh Hall Lahinch on December 28, 1954. He drove some members of the band home and collapsed and died at home hours later, aged 48.

The show had to go on and younger brother Pat fulfilled an engagement the following week and kept the band on the road for a number of years. He was played with the Corcomroe and Kilfenora for many years.

Jim Mulqueeney and Paddy Byrt, two of the original musicians, who came together at the school house in Kilfenora can be heard solo and together with Paddy Mullins (Organ) on many tracks. Their music links us back to the original style and indeed back into the 18th century. Paddy Byrt was born on 1887 and Jim Mulqueeney ten years later.

Michael Kelleher is now the sole surviving member of the Corcomroe Band. In 2018, he went back into Malbay Studios to put down some tracks to maintain the connection with the younger generation of the Byrt family.

The recordings were made by John Byrt (1919-1975), using a reel-to-reel Grundig TK-30 recorder. He recorded mainly at Ennistymon locations. For the double CD, the recordings were digitised, selections made, and then mastered, by Martin O Malley at Malbay Studios. In all there are 69 tracks over the two CDs. These recordings will serve to bring these musicians and their music to a wider audience for the first time.

Sound Your A, The story of the Céilí and Dance Bands of Ennistymon: families, music and musicians, a double CD and book will be launched by Seán Keane of The Chieftains and Mick O’ Connor, the well know traditional musician and writer at Teach Cheoil in Ennistymon on December 10 at 8pm.

The book and double CD will be on sale on the night and at selected outlets after that.

The work has been supported by  the Arts Council and Clare County Council Arts Office.

More details are available on Soundyoura.com.

Fiona McGarry
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Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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